With five children ages 11, 9, 7, 6 and 4, I am always on the look out for an affordable amusement park that is not to far away. Knoebels Amusement Resort in Elysburg, PA fit my criteria. It is a little over 3 hours from the DC area, and admission and parking are free!
Touted as America’s largest free-admission amusement park with over 63 rides (21 thrill rides, 23 kiddie rides, 19 family rides), we found something for everyone at Knoebels. In fact, we found to much to do. After spending five hours in the park, we ran out of time and energy. Thankfully, the park was filled with trees and benches for quick breaks.
A family could easily visit for two days and have a more relaxed visit. Besides the rides and attractions inside the park there are games, free live entertainment, and a giant Crystal Pool with a separate admission fee. A half mile from the park is the Knoebels Three Ponds Gold Club. They even have two campgrounds to pitch your tent or rent a cottage.
We arrived on a Sunday in mid-June shortly after the park opened at 11 a.m. Parking lot attendants were directing traffic as vehicles poured into the very large parking lot. A tram operated from several stops in the parking lot to the park entrance but the walk was manageable. While in the park, I wished I had my sturdier stroller instead of my cheap umbrella stroller. The walkways throughout the entire park varied from paved, dirt and gravel.
The park was rather full during our visit, but Knoebels was so large that we only found congestion surrounding the rides near the park entrance. Some rides did not have a line and those that did moved along. Unless you plan to ride Sklooosh, a water ride located near the entrance that soaks riders, I recommend bypassing the rides at the entrance until the end of your stay. Before leaving the entrance area make sure to pick up a park map from one of the greeters. It includes a chart showing height restrictions on the ride.
The majority of the Kiddie Rides were located in a single location but a few were scattered throughout the park. My 4 year old could not wait to go on the Kiddie Bumper Cars. He also liked the Cub Carts where young kids drive low-speed, electric “go-carts.” These go-carts can be tricky for a young child to operate. My 6 year old never did get the hang of it and it was rather painful to watch her maneuver the cart around the track. The Kiddie Whip ride was a fantastic traditional ride and made for great pictures. A handful of kiddie rides do not have a maximum height. So, I enjoyed riding Kiddie Himalaya with my kids.
The variety of Family Rides was endless and included many traditional rides such as a Tilt a Whirl, Bumper Cars, two carousels from the early 1900’s and two scenic trains. While my two youngest kids and I enjoyed riding the Tea Cups, I was constantly having to tell them not to lean forward towards the metal center hand rail. Besides spinning around, the cups sort of jolted the riders around. I was worried the ride would jolt their head right into the hand rail. There is no minimum height to ride the Tea Cups, but I would not take a child younger than 4 or maybe 5 on this ride. The very popular Antique Cars took drivers along a track through the woods and underneath the Phoenix roller coaster. The park even has a scenic skyway that unfortunately, we missed out on riding.
I do have a few thrill seekers in my family and Knoebels did not disappoint them with their selection of Thrill Rides. Cosmotron, a favorite of my 7 year old son and 11 year old daughter, is in the dark and takes riders forwards, backwards and around on a fast ride over dips and bumps set to a show of lights and music.
My oldest two enjoyed Wipeout, a roulette-style, spinning wheel that tilts. My older children and husband rode Phoenix, one of the park’s three wooden roller coasters. Flying Turns, a wooden bobsled roller coaster, and one of the most popular rides in the park had very long lines. Thankfully, there were signs posted letting riders know their wait time. I only noticed such signs for Flying Turns. Twister, the third wooden roller coaster, and Impulse, a yellow and blue steel coaster, looked a bit to scary for my most adventurous kids and their mom.
A real treat and big favorites among my kids were the two water rides in the amusement park – Sklooosh and Giant Flume. You will get a bit wet on Giant Flume where children 36 inches and taller are welcome on this rolling log ride with two water drops. However, you will get soaked on Sklooosh. Sklooosh is located towards the front of the park.
I recommend going on it first so you can easily dry off during the remainder of your stay. Bathing suits are allowed on Sklooosh but not on any other rides. A word of caution, if you wait for your child, make sure you stand or sit where you see dry pavement. The boat’s 50 foot drop creates a massive tidal wave that soak riders, spectators on the observation deck and those who are a little to close to the ride.
With over 63 rides, you will find something for everyone. Knoebels does have a family-friendly Child Swap program. If you and your partner would like to ride height-restricted rides but your child is not tall enough to ride, advise the attendant that you would like to take advantage of the Child Swap program. One parent may ride while the other stays with the child. At the conclusion of the initial ride, the parents may “swap” places.
A well detailed ride guide is available online showing not only height requirements but level of intensity to help you gauge whether or not members of your family might enjoy the ride. The website is perhaps the most comprehensive and well organized I have encountered for an amusement park. You can even watch video clips of select rides.
Ride TicketsEntrance to the amusement park is free but figuring out your ride tickets can be a bit confusing. There are two options – a Ride All Day Plan or individual tickets. Ride ticket pricing varies according to the day of the week and the month during the operating season (April through October). Check out Knoebels online K Calendar for specific pricing information based on the day you select.
With the exception of select pre- and post-season weekends, Ride All Day Plans are available Monday through Friday but not on major holidays. However, guests can purchase individual ride tickets on any day. Ticket booths are located at the front entrance and throughout the park.
Ride All Day Plans vary by height of the rider and whether or not you want to add wooden coasters. Haunted Antique Cars & Haunted Mansion not included in any Ride All Day plans.
Pre and Post Season Rates are Basic $32.00 and $22.00 for those under 48”. A plan that includes wooden coasters cost $40.00 and $27.00 for those under 48”.
Regular Season Rates are Basic $39.00 and $24.00 for those under 48”. A plan that includes wooden coasters cost $47.00 and $31.00 for those under 48”.
Individual tickets were the only choice on the day we visited. Rides have different costs and costs are posted at each ride. Most kiddie rides and family rides ranged between $1.00 to $2.00. Thrill rides ranged between $2.00 to $3.00. Depending upon how much you ride, individual tickets could be very economical. If you have a small child that will mostly ride the kiddie rides, I recommend only using individual tickets. If you think you will ride enough to make the all day plans worthwhile, go for it. As I was constantly detaching and handing over ride tickets, I wished for a hand stamp.
FoodYour family will not go hungry at Knoebels. Food options abound with 30 locations (1 full-service, 16 counter service, 13 snack). There were at least three spots to find our family favorite meal – pizza. There was even a Starbucks Express and Nathan’s hot dog stand for those looking for something familiar.
Most of the food vendors had covered outdoor seating. I enjoyed a bison burger. My daughter loved her burrito. My husband and other children enjoyed a pizza that was brought out to their patio table. We all scarfed down some delicious ice cream at the Old Mill.
I found the food prices to be reasonable and since the website showed the menu and prices for all 30 locations, there were no surprises. Plenty of people chose to bring a picnic. There were numerous picnic pavilions around the entrance to the park. In fact, we brought a picnic lunch and purchased dinner at the park. There were lots of drinking fountains scattered throughout the park where we refilled our water bottles.
Bottom LineKnoebels is an amusement park that values their patrons and offers a variety of ride, entertainment and food options to appeal to everyone without breaking the bank.
Good to Know
- Free admission and free parking.
- Helpful Knoebels website features include the K Calendar, an interactive park map and detailed ride guide.
- Check your child’s height at the measurement station near the entrance. Your child can also be measured by ride operators.
- Ride All Day Plans are available online or onsite. Individual ride tickets are only available at onsite ticket booths.
- Smoking is allowed in the 9 designated smoking areas within the park and one in the pool area.
- A nursing mothers station, with private climate-controlled rooms, is located next to Lost & Found, across the street from the Security office.
- Changing tables are available in bathrooms.
- Strollers (single and double) and wagons can be rented at the Rental Center near the park entrance and the Giant Wheel (Ferris wheel).
- Pets on a leash or in a carrier are welcome but owners must be responsible for and clean up after them.
- Birthday parties are welcome. There is even a nostalgic birthday picnic pavilion inside the park available to rent.
- Military Policy: Members of the U.S. Armed Forces are eligible to be a guest for (1) single day of their choice, within the current operational calendar season. Active Duty and Reservists receive a 40 Book of Ride Tickets. Retired and Veterans receive a $20 Book of Ride Tickets. More details are on the website.
- Lockers are available on a first-come, first-serve basis and located at various locations throughout the park for a nominal fee.
- Knoebels Hallo-Fun occurs during the last three weekends in October.
Photos courtesy of Knoebels Amusement Park.